Buffalo Sabres' left winger Thomas Vanek eyes the puck with...

Buffalo Sabres' left winger Thomas Vanek eyes the puck with Islanders' defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov during the first period. (Feb. 23, 2013) Credit: AP

BUFFALO -- Evgeni Nabokov has had some good moments in the Islanders' net this season.

Saturday night he had some great ones, very much earning his first shutout of the season. The Isles' 4-0 win capped a 2-1-0 road trip and brought them back within a game of .500 and two points of eighth in the East.

"He played great tonight," Matt Moulson said of Nabokov, who finished with 35 saves for his 53rd career shutout. "When we needed a big stop, he was there to make it."

Never more so than on two Sabres power plays back-to-back in the second period with the game still scoreless. While killing a too-many-men penalty 12:16 into the second, Nabokov flashed to his right to stop Buffalo's Tyler Ennis. As the penalty expired, Nabokov kicked out a rebound right to Drew Stafford to the left. Nabokov snared the quick shot with his glove.

John Tavares took a bad penalty just 1:10 after the earlier minor expired, but Thomas Vanek whipped a backhand through traffic that Nabokov snared with his glove.

"They brought a lot of guys in front of the net, a lot of traffic, so I just try to find the puck," Nabokov said. "We gave them a little momentum with those penalties, but we took it back by killing them."

And then the Isles seized it with a pair of quick goals on Ryan Miller, who had stymied them despite their aggressive, energetic play.

Marty Reasoner and Moulson led a rush, and Mark Streit cruised down the back side to chip in Moulson's perfect diagonal feed at 17:51 of the second, just 25 seconds after Tavares' penalty expired.

Just 1:05 after that, Michael Grabner stole the puck from Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera, cruised in on a breakaway and beat Miller with a snap shot.

"We got behind the 8-ball with those penalties, but we weathered the storm and got ourselves a couple goals," Jack Capuano said. "That showed a lot of character."

So did stepping up the attack to start the third. The Sabres, as the Isles have been at times this season, looked fragile. They were playing their first home game under interim coach Ron Rolston.

Tavares' goal came when he muscled Sekera off the puck behind the Sabres' net, cruised out front and roofed a shot behind Miller at 4:24. Tavares' 12th goal tied him for the league lead.

After Colin McDonald scored on the power play to make it a four-goal game, things got a bit chippy in the closing seconds. The Sabres' Marcus Foligno drove the net and barreled over Nabokov with 9.8 seconds to go, followed by Patrick Kaleta driving Streit into the boards. Capuano and assistant Brent Thompson let the Sabres' bench know they thought that was unnecessary.

Things got more out of hand when Matt Martin jammed Miller's crease a few seconds later. Miller tried to fight Martin and Nabokov wandered 200 feet down the ice to keep the Sabres' goaltender honest.

"To be honest, with 10 seconds to go, I'm just trying not to give up a goal," Nabokov said. "I don't think [Foligno] was trying to do anything there."

The Islanders will begin a seven-game homestand with the odd record of 6-3-1 on the road and 2-6-0 at Nassau Coliseum. This is their make-or-break stretch, beginning Sunday night against the Hurricanes.

"We need to capitalize," Moulson said. "We've got seven games at our place and we need some wins."

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